By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 01, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "What can I do if I'm experiencing an aversion to sex with my long-term partner?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 01 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-can-i-do-if-im-experiencing-aversion-sex-my-long-term-partner. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 01). What can I do if I'm experiencing an aversion to sex with my long-term partner?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-can-i-do-if-im-experiencing-aversion-sex-my-long-term-partner.

Dear Alice,

I've been with my boyfriend for just over 4 years. Our sex life has always been the strong thread in our relationship, even when we've had trouble in other areas. We both feel we are the best sexual matches we've ever had. But over the past 8 months things have slowly degraded on my end. He is still as excited as ever, but I just don't feel like it. When we try, I actually feel physically protective, as if blocking my body from a stranger, especially my breasts. It's like a physical compulsion to protect, but neither of us have a history of abuse in our relationship or outside of it, and his approach is loving and open. When he's clothed and we're not about to have sex I love holding him, being held by him, standing next to him, touching him, etc. I'm not physically repulsed by his body: I recognize that he's a ridiculously attractive man! I had some advice that I shouldn't force myself to have sex if I don't want to, but I've also heard the opposite: that I should stop thinking and just push through my body's shutdown. Most of the times when I do force myself I end up enjoying it, but that doesn't take away this "repulsion" feeling at the start. The worst thing is that he feels rejected and dissatisfied and keeps asking what he can do to turn me on. What to do?

Dear Reader, 

Relationships have their phases and can ebb and flow—while it can be distressing when the nature of your relationship changes, you might take comfort in knowing that it’s very common for couples to experience mismatched sex drives. There are several reasons why yours might be on the lower end. Speaking with a mental health care provider could be an effective way to gain greater awareness about your recent “repulsion” and plan if and how you’d like to be intimate going forward. Additionally, continuing to communicate with your boyfriend about what you want your sex life to look like can help build emotional and physical trust. 

There are lots of reasons why your sex drive can change. As a start, here are some potential reasons for low libido: 

  • Physical: side effects of certain medications, fatigue, nonsexual diseases, and more. 
  • Hormonal: pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause can all get in the way of sexual attraction. 
  • Psychological: stress, low self-esteem, poor body image, history of trauma or abuse, and previous negative sexual experiences. 
  • Relational: poor communication, lack of trust, and unresolved conflict. 

List adapted from the Mayo Clinic 

So, now to your question—what to do? In terms of moving forward, it might be helpful to reflect on your own boundaries surrounding intimacy with your partner. How might you still share physical touch with your significant other without necessarily having sex? You mentioned that holding one another feels good—that’s a great example! What other kind of intimate activities, if any, would you be comfortable with and open to? If having sex is something you choose to explore again in the future, what would need to change for you to feel more comfortable? 

It’s not always easy to identify the root cause(s) of low libido on your own. That said, mental health professionals like sex therapists can help you better understand confusing feelings and physical responses. If you do decide to work with a mental health care provider, you might also consider asking about the possibility of having what’s known as sexual aversion disorders. These disorders often involve repulsion and anxiety surrounding sexual situations. 

While there’s no step-by-step guide to knowing what will or won’t work, there are many routes you may choose to explore to better understand your sexual desire. A few options to consider include: 

  • Expand your sexual relationship with yourself. Consider making time to explore your sexuality on your own. You may discover new ways you like to be touched or turned on. You might also want to explore your sexual desires by checking out adult content online or by visiting an adult toy store. These stores are stocked with books, toys, videos, and educational resources for both individuals and couples. 
  • Explore other aspects of intimacy and physicality. Consider giving yourself a break from sex—while some people may have advised you to “just push through,” you should never feel obligated to have sex when you don’t feel ready or comfortable. Paying attention to the emotional, psychological, and physical signals your body is sending you can help you feel more in touch with your wants and needs. Instead of sex, you might explore other intimate activities with your partner like making out, massaging each other, mutually masturbating, watching a sexy movie, or reading erotica together. 

Once you have explored and know what you want to say, you can consider planning a time to talk to your boyfriend about the changes in your libido and how you would prefer to be intimate from here on out. Sharing these reflections with your partner can be a great way to explain your experiences and address his feelings of rejection. When it comes to the conversation itself, it can be helpful to tackle one issue at a time and be understanding of your boyfriend's point of view. Feel free to check out the Go Ask Alice! Communicating and Relating fact sheet for more tips on successful communication between partners. You might also consider couple’s therapy with your partner to create a safe space for you both to explore your feelings further and foster a deeper understanding of your dynamic. 

Hoping that exploration and insight will offer you strength, 

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